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What Will Your Project Legacy Look Like?

Author: Marisa Silva

If you are an attentive person to what’s going on in the project management community, you will have certainly noticed that there is a crescent number of articles on the importance of the learning legacy of projects or, more simply, on project legacy and its management.

What is the fuss about project legacy all of a sudden?

Lato sensu, ‘legacy’ represents the impact one leaves behind. This can be either positive or negative, tangible or intangible, deliberate or unintentional, permanent or temporary, real or perceived, visible in a physical product, such as a built venue, or in an emotion produced, such as the feeling of national proud for the success of the London Olympic Games. Legacy, such as the infamous ‘value’ concept (!) is thus a subjective idea, hence, hard to express and measure.

From a project management perspective, it can be said that legacy is an intrinsic part of projects given that they are started in the first place to create a unique output.

The legacy of the project is its raison d’être, aka, the answer to “why” the project exists, in this way making legacy an issue of strategic importance.

Oddly enough though, unless you are part of a high-profile project such as Crossrail or the Olympic Games, you’ll have noticed that the project legacy is seldom addressed or planned in the management of projects’ theory and practice.

Surprised?

The technical – and dominant – view of project managers as mere ‘executors’ whose job is to ‘get the job done’ doesn’t make things easier for project legacy to be properly considered since it leads to a situation where the afterlife of the project bears no interest or accountability to the Project Manager, who perceive it to be outside of the remit of the role and time horizon.

We want it here and we want it now, no time to think about the future! In fact, how to make considerations about the future in a temporary setting and plan today for a legacy that is distant in time?

Is it even possible to think about legacy beyond next month?

Thinking long term can be difficult since it brings new implications to the management of the project lifecycle and challenges the ordinary understanding of projects as temporal organizations.

In fact, while firms are meant to last, it is important to remember that projects are temporal entities, meant to end.

Hence, the temporality of projects leads to a central dilemma in project organizing studies. How can we combine both? The answer is ineffective project legacy management and in establishing the relationship between the legacy lifecycle and the project lifecycle, something like the below:

Project Legacy - Project Management - Wellingtone

Figure 1 – The project legacy lifecycle (Silva, 2015)

As a Project Manager, you are in a privileged position to determine what legacy your project is going to deliver and to assist in preparing the management of that legacy once the project is completed.

Repeat after me: “I’m not just a doer, I’m not just a doer”. You are a professional project manager and you have a responsibility to build the legacy you want to leave behind. Your projects are your legacy.

Look ahead, what would your legacy as a project manager look like in, say, 5, 10 years?

Start building it today.

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